The anti-aging industry has always been a fertile breeding ground for fads, wacky ideas and charlatans trying to sell you miracle creams and serums. However, it remains the case that most of us would be interested in extended longevity. The human desire to survive is a strong one, and while the internet is full of bogus anti-aging treatments, scientists are working on more serious ways to improve our life span.
Medical experts, including oncologist Mikhail Blagosklonny, work tirelessly to fight against certain diseases that commonly cause fatalities, but by looking at the whole process of aging itself, scientists can also gain general insights into how we age and why. What does the science of aging tell us, and how effective are the most well-known anti-aging treatments?
The concept of caloric restriction – significantly reducing or eliminating the intake of calories for a given period – has shown a lot of promise in terms of anti-aging. Indeed, it is the only method studied that has produced consistent evidence of anti-aging properties. Experiments on a range of animals from nematodes to monkeys have demonstrated that calorie restriction can have an impact on longevity.
Conclusive proof that it works for humans has not been established, and we do not know the precise reason why it appears to work in animals. However, scientists believe that it may not be the period of caloric restriction itself that brings the benefit but the process under which calorie consumption is restarted at the end of the restrictive period that produces the positive effects. For this reason, people attempting to improve their longevity or health through calorie restriction are advised only to restrict calories for short periods.
It is well known that our hormone levels decline as we age, and for that reason, many of the most well-known anti-aging treatments are based around the idea of reversing hormonal changes. The most notorious of these treatments involves injections of human growth hormone (HGH). There is some evidence that HGH can increase muscle mass, improve the immune system, and raise libido in elderly people. However, the treatment has failed to live up to the hype and has shown a tendency to produce unwanted side effects, such as raised blood pressure, diabetes and weight gain. Although some elderly patients who have tried HGH have reported positive experiences, there is no clinical evidence to show that it prolongs life.
Another well-known area of anti-aging speculation concerns the “free radical” theory of aging. This is based on the fact that when the body uses oxygen to make energy, it produces reactive compounds known as free radicals, and it is believed that these play a role in aging. Many supposed antioxidant anti-aging treatments have been developed, but while antioxidants may play a role in improving health, there is no evidence to suggest that they can have an effect on life span or slow the aging process.
Stem cell treatments have been in the headlines in recent years, and this prominence is down to the fact that the principle of stem cell-linked medicine offers the potential for a wide range of treatments. Since it is believed that the depletion or malfunctioning of stem cells can play a part in the aging process, some scientists are hopeful that stem cell research could eventually lead to treatments that could tackle diseases of aging. However, the technology is at an early stage, and while there is a lot of promise already shown by stem cell treatments designed to fight autoimmune and other diseases, it seems that we are a long way from being able to develop stem cell anti-aging medicine.
Also known as sirolimus, this is a compound that has shown some anti-aging promise in animal trials. Studies on mice have shown that it can increase life span by over 10%, and there have been some benefits from small trials conducted with elderly volunteers. The compound is primarily used as an immunosuppressant to prevent organ rejection, and as it has significant side effects, it could not be used as an anti-aging drug in its current form. However, scientists are working on replicating rapamycin’s anti-aging effect without any of the negative symptoms, so this may eventually lead to an anti-aging treatment.
The science of anti-aging has long promised the possibility of a breakthrough in human longevity, and we are probably closer to a significant life span boost now than we ever have been. In the meantime, the best way to maximize your life span remains the old-fashioned way: eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, stop smoking, and get lots of exercise.